Archive for the ‘Basic training’ Category

I started Kane as a baby on an e-collar. I know there are a lot of misgivings out there about “shock” or e-collars, so right off the bat let me say that I don’t do clicker and cookie training. I don’t want a cookie monster. I spent way too much money on a highy driven, working Russian dobermann. He’d probably pee on my leg if I tried to convince him to sit by using a clicker. Sure, they’re great for some dogs. Not for mine.

However, I shouldn’t have started his formal training with an e-collar. I didn’t know any better. I loved the e-collar because I had control over him for up to half a mile, and it took the guess work out of giving the appropriate correction.

The ultimate goal of being an effective dog trainer and handler is to use the least amount of force necessary to get the behavior you want. That’s right, the goal is to use little to no force or physical coercion.

How do you do this?

You make your corrections count. That doesn’t mean yelling louder. (A “correction” is a snap of the leash, followed by a verbal “No, sit, stay, whatever.”) If your corrections count and get results on the first application, your dog will respond to less and less of a correction. If you make your point the first time you snap the leash, the next time you’ll be able to snap it less, then less the next time, until your dog responds to a quick tug just as well as he did to the first SNAP.

All dogs should be started with a flat collar. You may only use it for 3 minutes, but give the dog the benefit of the doubt. This also gives you PLENTY of room to move up to more serious collars if your dog doesn’t respond to the correction you give with that one. If it becomes obvious that the dog doesn’t care about the corrections you’re giving, and you’re sure your timing and force is appropriate, then you move up to a different collar. (In order: flat collar, nylon or leather choker, chain choker, pinch, e-collar.)

So anyway, I didn’t do it this way. I started with the Big Kahuna of collars. Using an e-collar should have been the last collar I put on him, not the first. I had no room to move up. If he didn’t respond to the e-collar (which he stopped doing), what would I be able to do instead? Nothing, except get mad. What the e-collar did, especially at such a young age, was to harden him to corrections. It made him collar smart. It made him not care about corrections.

About six months ago I did something I never thought I’d do: I put a pinch collar on him. And you know what? After ONE SESSION of giving firm, appropriate corrections with the pinch collar, I was able to move him back down to a chain choker with FAR better response from him. Last weekend I was able to take him to the vet on a flat collar. (I brought the choker just in case, and it was a good thing I did when a lady brought a rabbit in.)

Your dog should never wonder whether or not you really mean to sit or to stay or to heel. If he does wonder, he won’t do it. And what happens if he doesn’t do it and you let it slide? Sure, you could yank him and yell at him, but the next time you ask him to do whatever, he’ll know that as long as he can tolerate the yank and the yelling, he doesn’t really have to do it.

I see so many people letting their dogs drag them down the street, and then finally get mad and yell and yank the dog back. The far better option is to correct the pulling from the beginning, and to let the dog know it will not be tolerated. The same goes with sitting, staying, laying down, etc.

Make your corrections count. Know your dog. Read your dog. Give him the guidance and the correction he needs to give you what you’re asking for. I guarantee he’ll do his best to give it to you, once he knows exactly what’s expected of him.

On a totally different note, I’ve been thinking about putting some training videos up here. What do you guys think? What would you like to see or learn to do?


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Kane has about as much self control as I do. That is to say, none.

But this weekend Jeff taught him that good things come to those who wait.

(Please ignore the mess in the background. I’m packing.)

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If there were a society for dogs who wolf down food, Kane would be president. He eats with a fervor that I haven’t seen since, well, since I used to go to Golden Corral on Sunday mornings for brunch. (What?! College was my Fat Time.)

I switched him to a raw diet for a while, and in addition to being much better for him, it forced him to slow down to chew the bones and tendons and such. The result was a much happier digestive system, and a much more sated dog.

About three months into feeding him raw, I bought a case of chicken backs that smelled the teensiest bit “off.” After a few days of explosive diarrhea, I switched him back to kibble. While I firmly believe in a raw diet for dogs, I’m a little nervous to try it again after that, even though I fully realize that kibble is more susceptible to rancidity and spoiling than quality raw meat and veggies are. One day we’ll get back there, but for now, I’m sticking with a high quality, grain-free kibble. (I fed Evo for a long time, and recently switched to Taste of the Wild–similar ingredient list, but far less expensive. Check out http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com to research grain-free dry dog foods.)

Anyway, I digress. Kane rarely even chews his dry food. One, two, gulp, it’s gone. Eating that fast has some health risks, including bloat, and being homeless when your family can’t take your gas anymore.

One way to get your pooch to slow down is to put some sort of obstacle in his bowl. A tennis ball superglued to the bottom of the bowl, an upside down ramiken (like you see in resturaunts), or something similar will work. When Fido has to eat AROUND the object, he has to slow down a little.

But, if you live with The Lord of the Flies like I do, this may not be enough. Enter the Kong Genius.

When I saw these at the pet supply store, I was hesitant to buy them. “Genius?” I thought. “Am I being overly optimistic?” But I bought one, and he LOVED it. Stuffed full of yogurt and cookies and frozen, it keeps him busy for hours when I leave for work. A week or so ago, I bought the other shape (the blue one below), because I believed Kane to be ready for another challenge. While it is indeed more challenging, and nearly impossible to get cookies out of, it’s PERFECT for feeding him meals. I’ve been giving him breakfast in his Kongs, and have been incredibly pleased with the results. No more gas, he doesn’t seem hungry still when he finishes, and it takes him a good 5 -10 minutes to eat all of his food. They’re a bit expensive–around $17 each for the extra large size–but oh so worth it.

If you have a gobbler, I highly recommend these.

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Never one to have fewer than three books on my nightstand, I find that one of them is usually some sort of dog-related book. I love my puppies after all, and I want to be the most informed owner/handler I can be. These are the books I keep out and on display, and which I turn to every few days for a pep talk to a memory refresher. If you’re thinking of getting a new dog or want to elevate your understanding of and relationship with your pooch, these are the essential books I recommend purchasing.

The Koehler Method of Dog Training. The old standby, this book was written by William Koehler, who was quite possibly the greatest trainer to ever live and who trained most of the Disney dogs (The Great Danes in Swiss Family Robinson, and all of the Lassies [who were all male, by the way] to name a few). (This book tends to be quite expensive, as it is out of print. I found a copy on ebay a few years ago for around $10. Be patient. It will come.)

Expert Obedience Training for Dogs, by Winifred Strickland. She focuses more on obedience training for trials, but nonetheless offers great insight for handlers of all skill levels.

Cesar’s Way, by Cesar Millan and Melissa Jo Peltier. Exercise, discipline, then affection. Nuff said.

The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell. As fascinating as it is useful, this book focuses on evolutionary differences between us and dogs, with us as primates and dogs as canids.

The Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, by various DVMs and MDs. This pretty much stays within reach at all times, ready for every nip, scrape, bump, and bruise.

Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, by Richard H. and Susan Hubble Pitcairn. Also always within reach, I turn to this book for a second opinion for any source, and always consult it before taking Kane or Cynder to the vet.

Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, by Beth Taylor and Dr. Karen Becker. This is the canine equivalent of Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution, with a ton of information and great recipes designed to complement a dog’s evolutionary heritage.

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The neighborhood I live in is lined with big, old, gorgeous Victorian houses, most of which have been converted into apartment buildings. Most of these residents are med students or young professionals and many of them have young dogs. Kane and I walk and run around our neighborhood a LOT, and we meet several “new additions” every week.

These people mean well enough and want good, socialized pets. But they make so many mistakes simply because they do not understand canine behavior, and while their dogs may not grow up to be terrors, they will grow up lacking the confidence they need to be who nature intended them to be.

Let’s review a typical scenario.

Kane and I are running down the sidewalk. I am In The Zone, but notice a young woman and her 6-month-oldish boxer puppy walking toward us. Kane sees them both and his ears go up. The puppy sees us and begins to lunge forward with excitement. The young woman sees us, then sees Kane, and gets nervous. She pulls her puppy over to the side of the sidewalk, and makes it lay down (after telling it to about 20 times). She tells the puppy, “You need to lie down and not be a rude puppy.” Kane sees this and become suspicious: why is she making that dog lay down? Is it hurt? When we pass them, he stops to investigate, causing the puppy to break his Down, and the woman to start yelling at it. I let the dogs sniff for a few seconds, then we continue on our way, and the woman is left with a puppy lunging after us, feeling like she has a dog she cannot control.

Several things went wrong here.

First, sidewalks aren’t conducive to proper canine greetings. Only the most rude and aggressive of dogs will ever meet another head-on. Instead, dogs approach each other from the side. Watch dogs in the park, and I guarantee you two friendly ones will never meet each other head-on. So from the get go, both dogs were left with the impression that the oncoming dog may mean him or her harm. Thus, their spidey senses get activated, and they become very interested in the other.

Second, the woman, not knowing the above, set her dog up for failure in several ways. First, she pulled her pup to the side and made it stop moving. Her puppy then became a prey item for Kane. Second, she made her dog lie down. No, no, no, NO! People! Never, never make your dog lie down when he meets another dog, unless he wants to. Making your dog lie down forces him in a submissive position, which Nature may or may not have intended. Some dogs will instinctively lie down upon meeting another, but my experience is that most dogs are not that submissive, and most will never meet one that dominant on the sidewalk. So, when Kane and I pass the pup, Kane is made to feel that much more Alpha, and the pup is relegated to a submissive, vulnerable position that he does NOT want to be in.

The woman’s comment about being a rude puppy offers more insight. She’s obviously concerned that her puppy won’t behave “correctly” around Kane, and that something bad might happen. I had a rude puppy. He’s STILL a rude puppy. But without exposure to older, more mature dogs, a puppy will never learn. Dogs teach each other more than we’ll ever be able to teach them, and they’re much more patient than we give them credit for. My guess is that if the puppy had been rude (which I doubt; most boxer pups are just exuberant little things), Kane would have told him so, and he would’ve learned.

Third, the pup, being a puppy and not being a submissive robot, broke the Down the woman erroneously put him in, and learned a valuable lesson: I don’t have to lie down the first time she tells me, and I don’t have to keep doing it if there’s a distraction.

Here’s how the scenario should have gone (and please note that this ONLY applies to dogs who show no signs of aggression):

Kane and I meet a young woman with a boxer puppy walking toward us on the sidewalk. We’re both aware that head-on greetings are a no-no, so we move to the outsides of the sidewalk and allow the dogs to move toward each other in the middle. Instead of either of us restraining our dogs or making them lie down, we both give our dogs a Stand command, instructing them to stand on all fours and not make any sudden moves. The dogs sniff each other, the puppy bows to play, and after a few minutes of on-leash romping, Kane and I resume our run. The puppy is left feeling confident as a dog and the woman is left feeling confident as a handler.


How to Teach Your Dog the Stand Command

Place your dog in a Sit. Move to his right side, facing him. You will most likely need to crouch, unless you’re working with a Great Dane or Irish Wolfhound. Keep the leash in your right hand, and shorten it to 2 or 3 inches. With your right hand on his leash, move your left hand under his belly/flanks. Gently tap his flanks with your left hand and say, “Stand.” He will most likely try to move forward. Using your right hand, hold him steady and say, “No, Stand.” Once he is standing, praise him: “Good boy! Stand!” Repeat until he simply raises his haunches to stand without attempting to move forward.

After a few days of practicing the above, add a Stay command. Once he is standing, turn to face the same direction as him. Say, “Stay” and simultaneously pivot on your left foot, moving your right foot to turn and face him. If he moves, say “No! Stand.” And move him back to position. Work on this until you can face him and back away several paces. You can then graduate to adding distraction. Once you get to this point, try it in a sidewalk scenario, but leave the Stay off. Your pup should know at this point that Stand means stay on your feet and don’t move too much.

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Care to go for a walk down health/fitness memory lane?

Phase 1: Teenager/High School     Weight: 167

Diet: I never remember eating breakfast as a teenager. Perhaps I had a NutriGrain bar every now and then. I do remember stopping at Hardee’s often on my way to work on the weekends for a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. I alternated between weeks of bringing a scarily light lunch and weeks of eating pizza and fries dipped in ranch dressing from the cafeteria. I had an after-school job, which meant I rarely ate home-cooked dinners. If I did eat, it was usually fast food. Arby’s chicken cordon bleu sandwiches were staples in my dinner fare. I didn’t drink very much, but I definitely was no stranger to alcohol. I knew sodas were bad for me, so I only had a few a week, usually at work to keep me awake. I was lucky to drink 50 ounces of water a day.

Exercise: I played volleyball in high school. Our practices were pretty lax, but there was running, jumping, swinging, and lifting weights. Sometimes I “ran” during the off season. Twice a week max, and two miles at a time max. I wasn’t a super model by any means, but I looked good in a bathing suit and was fit and comfortable with my body. This has become my mythical “goal body” ever since, despite all the crap I did to it.

Phase 2: College. Or, The Fat Years     Weight: 167 – 242

Diet: Unlimited junk from the cafeteria, and lots of Budweiser. I didn’t have a ton of soda, but there were studying nights that I definitely remember throwing back some Cherry Coke. This was also the scene of failed NutriSystem, South Beach, and Atkins experiments. None of these stuck for more than 4 or 5 days. (Which I’m OK with now, because now I know they’re terrible for you.)

Exercise: Minimal, if at all. I “ran” a few times, a mile or so total. I also went to the gym a few times a week, where I half-assedly got on the elliptical machine for about 30 minutes. I’d go through phases of working my heiny off in the gym, but I’d inevitably burn out (because I was fat, eating shit around the clock, and exhausted) after a few days and quit.

Phase 3: Maniac     Weight: 242 – 167

Diet: 1200 calories per day max at first, and around 1600 per day near the end of the phase. I tried to eat what I later discovered was Primal, but to me it was fresh food. Sometimes I splurged on a Lean Cuisine pizza, and on Fridays I was allowed to have WHATEVER I wanted. I didn’t eat particularly smartly or healthily, and I knew that. In my mind, I was carrying 80 extra pounds, and getting it off was priority one. I’d learn to “eat right” later, once I was at a healthy weight. It worked: I lost 75 pounds total (60 in the first 7 months, and and additional 15 over the next 6 months). I didn’t drink a whole lot, but I did learn to love red wine. I also dabbled with Weight Watchers a few times during this phase, but never fell in love with it.

Exercise: I started by doing modified CrossFit WODs in my living room. Then I started running, doing yoga and pilates, and eventually fell in love with Jillian Michaels videos.

Phase 4: Enlightened, But Lazy     Weight: 167 – 188

Diet: I didn’t eat like total crap during this period, but I had my share of comfort food and booze. I tried WW again and hated it. I tried counting calories and hated it. This was undoubtedly the most frustrating period of my life.

Exercise. I continued to work out, but I never did anything particularly hard or groundbreaking. Except of course my experiment with Insanity, which landed me a sprained hip and 6 weeks of mediocre activity, but no real rest (which is why I still have hip pain, and probably always will).

Phase 5: This is It     Weight: 188 – ?

Diet: I just started eating Primal. No grain, no starches, no sugar. And I love it. It’s by far the easiest and most natural dietary adjustment I’ve ever made. It just feels right. I’m one week in, so no real “progress” to note, but hot damn do I feel good. Most of the time. I still have weird mood swings that I’m sure are a result of some chemical mumbo jumbo happening inside me. Oddly enough, I haven’t really craved anything during my “detox” from grains and sugar. In fact, a few days ago, I actually sucked some pesto off a piece of pasta and then discarded it. I didn’t want it. Weird. I have a general idea of how many calories I’m eating (between 1000 and 2000, most likely around 1600), but I’m saited and comfortable. I eat lots of seafood, lean red grassfed meat, and veggies.

Exercise: I bought a book on outdoor fitness a few weeks ago, and have really been giving it my all. I’m also adjusting my workout schedule to be Monday – Friday mornings, to leave my weekend open for my boyfriend who lives an hour and a half away. (No one wants to worry about squeezing in a run when their TDH [tall, dark, and handsome]) is making them eggs and bacon for breakfast.) I try to run on Mondays, do an outdoor crossfit-style routine on Tuesdays, strength training on Wednesdays, another outdoor sesh on Thursdays, and run again on Fridays. I’m 3 weeks into this, and I like it for the most part. Getting up at 5:15 to work out is a big commitment every workday morning, but I’ve recently started working from home on Wednesdays, which definitely helps. That extra hour of sleep is cruical.

A friend commented the other day that I’m always “doing something different and weird with your diet and workouts.” She was specifically talking about Primal and outdoor fitness. Looking back, she’s right. Also looking back, I’ve spent 10 years playing into what “they” say I should do to be healthy: calorie restriction and mindless, horrible, endless hours on an elliptical machine. And, 10 years later, here I am: still unsatisfied and looking for the right fit. I’m actually quite proud that in 10 years I’ve gone through 5 phases of food/fitness evolution, especially given that none of the previous 4 either worked or were sustainable over time. Maybe this phase will be the last phase.

I still have crazy person body image issues. But for now, I’m giddy to not be counting calories in and out anymore. Give me a steak and a park bench to do box jumps on instead, please.

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Kane and I take a 30 – 40 minute walk every day after work. It’s our bonding time, our training time, some exercise time, and unwind time. When I moved back to Ghent, I deliberately chose a route that had a big, long field near the end. The idea was that I could let Kane off leash for the length of the field. He could sniff around, chase squirrels, or play if other dogs happened to be around.

For the past few weeks, there have been other visitors to The Field when we walk through. It’s a man and one or two golden retrievers (varies by day). His dogs seem happy and socialized. He, on the other hand, is a different story.

As soon as he sees us coming, he flips out and clenches his dog(s) by their collars. He makes them sit and watch us walk by, as if he must protect his dog from the vicious doberman walking peacefully by. He doesn’t let go until we’ve passed a good distance. It’s awkward and it’s unnatural for everyone involved. I’ve seen his dog play with others, so the only conclusion left is that he’s judging Kane and has decided he’s dangerous. Sometimes when we enter The Field, there will be another dog or two playing with his. His freak-out reaction makes the other owners do the same thing, and Kane and I end up walking past a crowd sitting and watching us walk by. It sucks.

I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does. It makes me want to scream at the guy. He’s judging my baby, and he won’t let my “kid” play with his, though they both want to, based on how he looks. It breaks my heart and it pisses me off. I know Kane doesn’t give a crap about what Ignoramus thinks of him, and after we’ve passed, he completely forgets how much he wanted to play. So why does that scenario creeep insde me and eat at me? I know it doesn’t reflect on me as a person or a handler. I know Kane has enough friends to keep him busy and happy. I know that walking past them off-leash is good distraction practice for us. And really, I’d rather people be afraid of Kane than not. But I still feel compelled to “fix” this, to make this asshole understand how wonderful Kane is.

Or should I? Judgment is a wicked and devasting thing. He obviously doesn’t deserve to know a dog as great as my Bubba.

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